Forward Rudy Gay has made the necessary adjustments to his game to thrive in the San Antonio Spurs’ system.
After suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon at the age of 30, an injury that devastated so many NBA careers, the best thing that could have happened to Rudy Gay was to find himself in the Alamo City. The signing has been the definition of a mutually-beneficial relationship: Gregg Popovich‘s high regard for the long-term health of his players is exactly what Gay needs at this stage in his career, and the efficiency of his game is exactly what San Antonio needs.
Heading into his 14th NBA season, the veteran forward remains a vital cog in the silver and black machine. Rudy’s ability to adapt his game on the fly and contribute in different ways are just a couple of the reasons he was given a generous, but well-earned extension earlier this summer. As the re-tooled Spurs look to compete in the loaded Western Conference, here are some expectations and aspirations for Rudy Gay for the 2019-20 season.
Smart and efficient offense
One underrated aspect of Rudy Gay’s game so far in San Antonio has been his ability to take care of the ball. During his time in Memphis, Sacramento and Toronto, he averaged 2.6 turnovers per game. Over the last two seasons with the Spurs, Gay has been able to cut down his turnovers per game to 1.5. His intelligence to make the right decision with the basketball last season helped San Antonio finish No. 1 in the league in turnovers per game at just 12.1.
While playing the fewest amount of minutes in his career with San Antonio, Gay is also showing remarkable intelligence in picking his spots within the offense so far. Rudy’s last two seasons have been the most offensively-efficient of his career.
In 2017-18, Gay tied a then-career-high field goal percentage, shooting at a clip of 47.1 percent. Last season, the 32-year-old established a new career-high in the category when he shot 50.4 percent from the floor. Considering Rudy isn’t your typical “post-up and punish them down low” type of power forward, that’s a blistering rate to sustain over the 69 games he played.
While shooting above 50 percent may be tough to replicate again, all indications are that Rudy Gay will continue to take advantage of his opportunities and pick his spots wisely within the Spurs offense.
Next: Making clutch plays
Remaining a go-to option in crunch time
Since the beginning of his career, Rudy Gay has established himself as one of the most clutch players in the NBA. In 2016 ESPN broke down the top clutch performers spanning the previous ten years, and Rudy Gay finished at the top of the league with these impressive stats:
Since many have asked…
Over the last 10 years, the BEST FG pct in last 5 sec of 4th qtr/OT belongs to Rudy Gay pic.twitter.com/36SZIr0rDi
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 27, 2016
It’s important to keep in mind that this impressive run occurred while Rudy was consistently the No. one or two option on his respective teams, the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings.
In San Antonio, Rudy Gay doesn’t quite shoulder the pressure to be the clutch player he’s been in the past. However, he has still consistently delivered much-needed buckets when the offense has found itself in a rut. He has also delivered the knockout punch for the Spurs on several occasions in the past two seasons, with the latest being this buzzer-beater against the Phoenix Suns last January.
— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 30, 2019
While Rudy has made a career out of making clutch plays in the regular season, Spurs fans should perhaps be most excited about how he performed when he was needed most in round one of the playoffs last season. Down 3-2 in the series, Gay scored 19 points off the bench in game six to help the Spurs send the series back to Denver for a Game Seven. While the silver and black ultimately fell short and lost the series, he showed up again in the final game by leading the team with 21 points and 8 rebounds while coming off the bench.
What makes Gay so dangerous in crunch time is his combination of quickness and size. Playing at power forward allows him to consistently have either a slower big guarding him or a smaller, lighter opponent trying to contain him off of a pick-and-roll switch. In either scenario, Rudy frequently makes the right decision by taking high-percentage shots, making the right pass or getting to the line.
Next: Issues to address
Defense, defense, defense
The best thing about Rudy Gay is that he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. While he has always been more impressive on the offensive end of the court, his defense has never been a major liability in his career. With that said, there are still some improvements that can be made in order to optimize Gay’s effectiveness on the defensive end of the court.
While playing Rudy at the power forward position can often be advantageous on the offensive end due to his quickness, it can also lead to some detrimental mismatches on defense. As Damien Bartonek noted previously for Air Alamo, Gay struggled defensively when matched up with the height and strength of Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap in round one of the playoffs last season. The duo often gave Denver second and third looks that may have ultimately made the difference in such a tight series.
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Given his 7-foot-3 wingspan, a couple of things Rudy Gay should be able to improve this season are his ability to get deflections and his ability to force his opponents into tough shots. There are occasions where he is simply overpowered by a stronger and bigger power forward, which can only be remedied by a better defensive scheme such as quicker help defense. There are also occasions where Rudy will lose his focus and get beat by quickness that he should be able to make up for using his length.
The main contribution the Spurs should hope for from Rudy Gay as he enters his third season with the club is his focus on the defensive end. Defense is definitely a team effort, and when you consider defensive star Dejounte Murray‘s return as well as Derrick White‘s emergence on that end of the floor, Gay must take advantage of a higher quality of team defense San Antonio may not have had last season.
The time is now for Rudy to be more aggressive than he’s ever been, particularly in the passing lanes. With better help behind him, I would expect Gay to force more turnovers and tougher shots using his length this season.
San Antonio and Rudy Gay have been a perfect match for each other so far, and I expect that to be made even more evident this upcoming season.